Sunday, December 18, 2011

What handicapped parking says about our culture

A few weeks ago, when a friend brought up the subject of the Steve Jobs biography, he said, "I know why you hated the book." Really, why? I wondered. "He parked in handicapped parking spaces." Well, that wasn't why I thought the book was mediocre (I didn't hate it; see my previous blog post), but it did get me thinking more about what he said, and the more I thought about it, the more it got me to this rant, which is especially timely as we are deep into the holiday season.

The media raves are all about charitable giving, of course, and I applaud that, but what's missing is the charitable giving of a different kind -- that from the heart that has nothing to do with money. Just ordinary small acts of decency.

As many of my friends know, my wife has been courageously fighting back against the effects of a debilitating stroke that occurred eight years ago while we were on holiday in the South of France. It has taken its toll on my personality, much for the worse. My anger and frustration are way off the charts, far too often. And the guilt is immeasurable because my suffering palls in comparison with hers, every day. I have no right to feel worse than she does.

I'll admit it. If a few years after our family dynamic changed forever, if I saw Steve Jobs' Mercedes in a handicapped space and my wife and I needed the spot, I'd have gone way beyond ballistic. I'd have taken a tire iron out of my trunk and smashed every single window. Then I would have made sure that every fender, every quarter panel, the hood, the trunk, and so on, would have been unrecognizable, when he reappeared with his Smoothie from the health food store. (You're thinking, "Is Doug mad yet?" I'm just getting started.) If his widow does anything with her huge inheritance, she can start by thinking about the people whose lives are affected every day by those little blue signs that her genius husband so cavalierly ignored.

We Americans constantly complain about how we're treated in foreign countries. Particularly, I've had to listen to my less-enlightened relatives prattle on about how "the French hate us." They hate us because we act privileged and boorish when we visit their country, that's why. But when it comes to treating the disabled, they're a lot nicer than we are. Trust me on this. Whenever I've wheeled Meg through a European airport dragging two suitcases strapped around my waist, someone has never failed to offer to help. In the U.S., nobody ever offers. Zero. We're lucky to find a Sky Cap in a U.S. airport. In fact, it's sad to say that I feel like it's a miracle when someone holds a door for us. (The big exception? N.Y.C. bus drivers, who unfailingly and uncomplainingly, arrange the handicapped seat and strap in the wheelchair.)

In France, where parking is chaotic to the point of laughable, the irony is somewhat delicious for Meg and me. The French park illegally everywhere, on sidewalks, the wrong way on one-way streets. They appear to continually ignore every single parking restriction except one: they do not park in handicapped spaces without a wheelchair placard. When we were at the supermarket in Vence a few years ago, we pulled right next to the entrance. I hung out our state-issued placard (honored just about everywhere in the world), and Meg read the sign for me. Instead of threatening with a huge fine, it read, roughly translated, "If you take my space, take my disability."

So this holiday season, think about something nice to do for someone who can't do it themselves. It might go a lot further than merely writing a check. (And God help you if I find your car in a handicapped parking space without a placard.)


  1. My gripe is a little different. When someone "borrows" a handicap sign from their relative and uses it to park in such a such a space...this makes me want to damage them.

  2. My gripe is a little different. When someone "borrows" a handicap sign from their relative and uses it to park in such a such a space...this makes me want to damage them.

  3. One quibble re Steve Jobs. Wouldn't incurable cancer of the liver be considered a handicap, Doug?

  4. Doug, you say I haven't read the book or I'd know that Jobs was a serial handicap space violator. My response is ...
    Then it is karma, then, isn't it?

  5. I have always been vigilant about handicapped parking -- perhaps a bit obsessed. I never pass a car parked in a handicapped spot without checking for plates or placards. And as angry as I am when I see one without, I've never reported them, because I'm sure by the time anyone followed up, the jerk would be gone -- the main reason they know they can get away with it.

  6. Oh, and on rude Americans? It absolutely disgusted me the few times that I stayed with you guys during the summer and ran errands with Meg. People would have the nerve to be annoyed when they couldn't get around her in a store, or even when waiting for her to cross the street. I came close to calling people out for their rudeness -- and equally amazing was how Meg just ignored it. I'm sure she has experienced this so much that it isn't worth getting riled up.

    I also have a friend with MS who rides a scooter when out and about -- people treat her like she is invisible, even to the point of not listening to her and deferring to me as if she had a hearing problem. And, the neighborhood where I lived didn't have intersection sidewalks with ramped curbs, so we had to go out on the road until we found a driveway that would allow her scooter to get onto the sidewalk. I made some calls to get some information and found out that the city has been working on getting the new curbs put in neighborhood by neighborhood. The sad thing is that I wouldn't have even noticed this issue if it weren't for traveling with my friend.